So near but yet so far. What a heart-breaking result. It is one of the cruelest defeats I have witnessed.
I was born into a Celtic-daft family just outside of Glasgow. Loving Celtic is in my DNA along with double strands of faith, passion and hope. Celtic fans are the life-blood of the club; our collective energy is the 12th man on game-day. The atmosphere at Celtic Park on European nights is magical, intoxicating and exhilarating. Now, I live in Los Angeles and catch the games at Joxer Daly’s, home to the L.A. Celtic Supporter’s club, where everyone is always welcome.
Today, the pub was packed, we had the Celtic game on the huge screen while the bank of tellies over the bar played host to all the other Champion’s League games; making the most noise, after us, were the Barcelona fans. Well done Calatans, some great goals were scored at Nou Camp. The Chelsea fans had the biggest groans. And yes, I am prevaricating over the discussing the Celtic game.
Before the match, I would have been delighted with a draw, maybe nicking an away goal, but the way the game unfolded, I started to believe we would win!
The first ten minutes are always the most nerve-wracking – in the past, we’ve gifted goals before settling into our own rhythm, today was no exception, Milan started strongly but we held them in check. Forster, our goalie looked up for the challenge of keeping a clean sheet. The German referee generally had a good game and allowed play to flow. As the first half progressed, we started to create chances and had a couple of almost-was’s by way of set-pieces. As the game continued our team work, discipline and persistence created more chances, but just couldn’t finish any of them. The atmosphere in the pub was relaxed and optimistic – not usual for a C/L game at the San Siro. In the dying minutes of the half, Milan put in a second spurt of activity, which we handled – in the past, we would have been fading a little, anticipating some pie and Bovril; the Barcelona game from last season comes to mind. Overall, in the first half, we were just as threatening as them, and they were as off-target as us!
A 0-0 score at half-time! Pre-game, nobody was expecting that. There was a sense from the Celtic fans in the pub of ,”To hell with a draw, we’re gonna win this – easy-peasy!’
During the second half, we looked comfortable, had more chances, more possession and more confidence; they, by contrast, appeared tired and lack-luster with only a few half-hearted attempts to score; the stadium was quiet considering how packed it was. We could have, should have, but didn’t score quite a few times; I felt that if we got one in, we’d score three. The Milan mob became a bit more histrionic and were throwing themselves down all over the place, which the referee kinda ignored most of the time. Balotelli deserved an acting award for his looks of anguish, maybe he should join One Direction if he finds the big bad Celtic team so intimidating. The general impression of them in front of the goal was that of swarming midges, annoying but not dangerous.
With 15 minutes to go, we brought on the new blokes, Boerrigter for Commons, Pukki for Matthews; we seemed to lose our fluid team work, but still appeared more capable of scoring, until we gifted them a goal, against the run of play in 82nd minute. Zapata’s off-target shot deflected off Izaguirre …so they couldn’t bloody well score against us until we helped them. They knew how lucky they were; they were celebrating like they’d just won the Champion’s League final. Then, and only then, the stadium came alive as their fans were jostled out of their stupor. Their second goal came off a free kick after Brown was carded – I don’t know why; the TV coverage didn’t show it. Forster saved Balotelli’s shot, but Muntari caught the rebound and knocked it in. In the four minutes of injury time, the Celtic fans could be heard singing, ‘You’ll never walk alone.’ It was too late; we lost 2-0.
I don’t mind being beaten, as much, when we’re out-played and out-classed, but today – we were not; we deserved more – more points, more goals, a reward for our efforts – but in football, the only thing that counts is the number of times the ball gets in the net, which we could not do. Neil Lennon will be proud of his players, pleased with his tactics, but frustrated at lack of goals. Attempts by Commons, Samaras, Matthews, Stokes all failed to yield results. I am proud of the way we played; I’ve full confidence that, in the cauldron of Celtic Park, we will beat them. One game down, five to go…last 16, here we come….did I also mention that unwavering optimism is another sign of a Celtic fan? Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone…
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